An ocean of concepts: Why choosing between ecosystem-based management, ecosystem-based approach and ecosystem approach makes a difference
The need for management approaches based on ecosystem perspectives that thoroughly incorporate ecosystem considerations into marine planning has become increasingly urgent. In response, concepts such as ecosystem-based management (EBM), ecosystem-based approach (EBA) and ecosystem approach (EA) are increasingly being applied in marine/maritime spatial planning (MSP). The purpose of this article is to clarify potential differences and similarities between the three concepts and potential consequences of choosing one over the others. From a questionnaire and literature analysis, the findings showed vast disagreements on how the concepts are related, however the main perception is that the concepts overlap. Respondents agreed that a lack of clear definitions and understandings of the three concepts causes confusion and expect negative consequences for planning outcomes. Eleven principles for how the concepts are ideally performed were found, including; acknowledge interlinkages, see humans as a part of the ecosystem and consider cumulative impacts. While a complete overlap between EBM and EA principles were found, the weighting of each principle was different for each concept. Differences were also found in objectives of the concepts, where definitions of EBM were the only ones to include the objective of co-existence and definitions of EBA the only to include objectives of impact management and good environmental status. As this could have consequences in planning processes and thus in the outcomes, it is crucial that MSP practitioners and stakeholders are aware of different perceptions so that choosing between concepts does not lead to less ambitious or inadequate outcomes.